The Timber Mills Come And Go
European use of the land first began in the 1840s. Graziers such as the Hassell family began to use a small part of Denmark's coastal areas for grazing cattle. The land, however, was not held by freehold title, but was either considered common land or leased from the government. The region experienced a major change with the arrival of the Millar Brothers in 1895.
The catalyst for Denmark's settlement was the rapid development of the railways throughout the Colony. The railway lines, Perth to Fremantle and Perth to Albany Charles and Edwin, originally came to the West as railway contractors. Using land concessions they had gained in return for their work, they responded to the large demand for timber by setting up a timber mill in 1884 in the Torbay district near Albany. 1893 saw the beginning of the gold rush in Western Australia. The need for the extension of the railway to the goldfields, plus the housing boom, again put pressure on the supply of timber. Looking for larger supplies of big trees, the Millar brothers decided on the area around the Denmark River. In 1895 they set up a mill in Denmark and proceeded to provide transport for their product to Albany. They built a railway track that also necessitated a bridge across the river. The first small mill was followed by a larger one close by. They continued to expand by building another mill in an area they called Scotsdale. The name Scotsdale was formed by an amalgamation of the names of two men who worked for the Millars, James Scott and Henry Teesdale Smith.
Demand for timber from England, India, China, South Africa and South America was also high. Mills worked around the clock under the light of kerosene flares. At the height of the Millars' involvement in the district it is said they employed up to 1000 men and two runs a day were made by train to Albany delivering the timber. The return trips often carried water which had to be carted into Denmark until a creek was dammed at the foot of Jamieson Hill for a regular water supply.
The original surveying of the Denmark townsite was organised by the Millars' company, Karri and Jarrah Forests Ltd. They supplied four-roomed cottages as quarters to married men. Along with about 100 cottages, a butcher, blacksmith and general store were built. Community spirit was encouraged by the erection of a hall and a recreation and billiard room. Education and spiritual needs were supplied by a school and St Leonard's Anglican Church, both of which opened in 1896. Interestingly, no hotel was built in the township as alcohol was prohibited. However, many stories have been told about the methods used to break the imposition of the 'dry' town rule.
A twelve bed hospital was built, and run by Dr Gray (until 1902) and then later Matron Butler. It was necessary because of the dangerous nature of timber felling and milling. The hospital was funded by deductions from the employee's pay. Maternity patients continued to be confined in their homes where they were attended by Nurse Westwood, the local midwife.
The services and living conditions of the mill workers must have been relatively satisfactory, as no strikes by the Denmark Timber and Workers Union (formed 1899) were ever called. This harmonious situation was encouraged by John Coughlan, the General Manager of Denmark Mills. He was recognised as an efficient operator, as his ability to manage business and employees gained much respect.
There was a cumulative benefit to the development of the timber industry in Denmark.
The supportive services that were associated with the population of timber workers attracted new people into the district. Farmers came looking for new land and quickly recognised the nearby markets for vegetables and fruit in Denmark, Albany and the goldfields of Kalgoorlie/Boulder and Coolgardie. A farm was also established on Blackboy Flats at Young's siding. This farm was to grow grasses to feed the animals working at the mill. These included horses and bullocks. The results of this farm, however, were disappointing and it was discontinued after two or three years.
Despite the hard work of clearing the land and the difficulties in making cultivation successful, farms increased. Many farms were set up on land that had already been partly cleared by timber fellers. Settlers took advantage of tracks make by timber men, which eased their goods transport problem. A reflection of the growing agricultural nature of Denmark was the first Agricultural and Horticultural Show held in 1902. At this stage most of the produce was from cottage gardens. The Agricultural Shows coincided with log chopping contests with both team and individual events.
Other sporting events held in the district in this period were Two-up (mostly on pay day!), cock fighting and athletic competitions such as foot running, hurdling and jumping. Sport was, however, dominated in winter by football.
1905 was a vital year for Denmark. The Millar Brothers made the decision to cease milling operations. The timber supply around Denmark that was easily accessible by bullock teams and train branch lines was limited. The result was a business decision to withdraw.
The population of the town, approximately 1,000 at this time, shrank rapidly. Only two or three families remained. Two men, who had established themselves in the area were Alf Randall, a vegetable grower and J D Smith, a fisherman. They were horrified to see that the Millars planned not only to close down the timber mills, but also to dismantle the cottages, shops, hall and other buildings they had built for the mill workers. The two men joined forces and petitioned the State Government to prevent this happening. The government had been negotiating with the Millars in 1904 but the price was too high. A price of £5,000 was agreed to in 1907 and the demolition was halted.